Claim: Charles Shaw wine was sold cheaply because airlines could no longer use corkscrews after 9/11 and dumped their stocks of wine.
Origins: We tend to equate quality with cost, so the appearance of an underpriced wine of surprising virtue is bound to spark its share of interesting backstories. We view wine as a luxury item, and since we reject the intellectual construct that such an item can be both good and inexpensive, we instead seize upon plausible-sounding (but apocryphal) tales to explain the disparity between cheapness and quality. Good wine must be expensive, and if a good wine is being vended at a bargain price, there must be a calamitous reason for this fortuity. In early 2002, rumors of airlines dumping their Merlot (and the like) were launched from this springboard.
As the Los Angeles Times noted in a 2002 article about the burgeoning sales of Charles Shaw label wines:
Since it was introduced in February, Charles Shaw wine has gained a cult-like following in Southern California, with wine drinkers backing their cars up to the loading dock of the Los Angeles-based discounter to lay in a supply of the Trader Joe's exclusive.
"It's selling like crazy," said Jon Fredrikson, a wine consultant based in San Mateo County. "A great story for consumers."
- Security regulations enacted after the
September 11terrorist attacks prohibited the carrying or use of corkscrews on commercial flights, so several airlines dumped their large stocks of wine on the market, thereby depressing prices.
- Financially-distressed United Airlines attempted to raise some quick cash by selling its food service stocks, including an ample supply of Charles Shaw wine.
- Charles Shaw himself, engaged in a bitter divorce struggle, attempted to reduce the value of his winery's assets by flooding the market with cheap wine.
The Charles Shaw label (known in local slang as "Two-Buck Chuck") was the focus of those "cheap wine" rumors because it bore a prestigious Napa label, even though it sold for less than $2 per bottle. The catch was that it's made with cheaper grapes from California's Central Valley rather than more desirable grapes from the
Even with the depressed market, grapes from Napa sell for around $2,000 a ton, said Brian Sudano of Beverage Marketing Corp. To make money on a
This summer the market price for those grapes hit a low of
"Franzia was able to take advantage of distress sales by other vineyards, said [wine consultant Jon] Fredrikson. "And he's got the high-speed production lines to do it and still make money."
That enmity was famously (albeit accurately) expressed in 2011 by Chris Knox, a self-described vintner who once caustically asserted on Quora, in a since deleted response to an inquiry about why Trader Joe's wine (and the Charles Shaw blend in particular) was sold so cheaply, that those wines were inexpensive to buy because they
He started by buying the then failing Charles Shaw label years ago along with massive amounts of bulk wine in the 90's for pennies on the dollar and a staggering 35,000 acres of land in the very cheap San Joaquin Valley which he then planted to vines. That gives his Bronco Wines the prestige of holding the most acreage of vines of any American winery, even surpassing Mondavi and Gallo.
A few things to keep in mind about his vineyards: one is that they are located in what is known as the Central Valley in the California wine world which is notoriously flat and quite hot producing massive yields of overripe grapes. The other thing is that Fred Franzia is no
If you were to taste that wine right after it was made, I guarantee you it would be undrinkable. They will then manipulate the finished wine in whatever way necessary, including adding sugar or unfermented grape juice if needed to make the wine palatable. And then the wine goes into bottling, packaging and shipping facilities, all of which Fred Franzia owns himself. They then get put on trucks (also owned by Fred Franzia) and shipped to Trader Joe's. The only part of the process Fred doesn't own is Trader Joe's itself and I'm sure if he got his way, he'd include that in his empire as well.
So the summary is this — to make $2 wine one must compromise all sense of integrity and quality, own tens of thousands of acres of vineyards in the worst possible wine region possible where land is incredibly cheap and yields are exceptionally high, use machines to execute every part of a homogenized system that substitutes manipulation for hand crafted quality, and own every step of the winemaking process including bottling, packaging and distribution, all while giving the finger to the entire wine industry and plowing down anyone who gets in your way.
"We're in the grape-picking business," he said. "We're looking for quality wines and quality grapes. We're not looking for animals."
Some animal matter does end up in winemaking, as it does in almost all agricultural products. "If you worry about things like that, you shouldn't eat anything, you shouldn't drink anything," Franzia said. "When the wine's fermenting, they're going to eliminate anything that's possibly there."
Indeed he was. Shaw, a Stanford Business School graduate, bought a Napa winery with his wife, Lucy, in 1974 and began to produce Charles Shaw Beaujolais. However, after the Shaws divorced in 1991, they sold the winery. The Charles Shaw label possessed a good reputation, though, and Bronco Wine Co., a mass-market wine conglomerate located in the Central Valley's Stanislaus County, bought it up and revived it in 2002 for sales of a line of inexpensive wines through the
| Charles Shaw |
Brown, Corie. "The Truth in This Wine Is Elusive, But It Sells and Sells." Los Angeles Times. 7 December 2002. Brown, Corie. "Hard Times at the Winery? Not for Everyone." Los Angeles Times. 26 February 2003 (p. F1). Emert, Carol. "Wine Drinkers Gaga Over 'Two-Buck Chuck'." San Francisco Chronicle. 26 December 2002. Moran, Tim. "$1.99 Wine Is Hottest Deal in Dodge." The Modesto Bee. 25 December 2002. Wells, Jane. "The Really Big Ruckus Over 'Two Buck Chuck.'" CNBC. 14 August 2014.